Record Labels – Are they relevant in 2010? Do they still serve a useful purpose and provide artists value, or are they the dying remnants of an obsolete model for the distribution of recorded music?
Are Record Labels Still Relevant?
As technology – and the Internet, specifically – continues to improve, digital distribution becomes more common and more accessible to everyone. We are living in an age in which the term "MP3" is commonly understood, even by those who aren’t very tech-savvy, and a large percentage of the population has an iPod, a music-capable cell phone, or some other portable MP3 player. With all of this music accessible directly from the convenience of our homes, few people even need to step in to a record store anymore.
That being said, are record labels still relevant in today’s society? Record labels were formed to help artists distribute their music, as it used to be very costly and difficult to press, label, package, and ship new albums to market. However, I recently reviewed THE HUMAN TIDE by Beyond the Grave, and this unsigned band somehow managed to put together an album in Label-quality packaging (i.e., a jewel case, full color insert with lyrics, etc.) without being a member of any particular label. I’m not sure exactly what they did to put it all together, but if one band can do this on an even moderately large scale, there’s no reason that others can’t as well.
Packaging an album is clearly no longer an issue, but what about distribution? An unsigned artist may be able to put together a stellar looking package, but can they do that in a large enough quantity to be profitable? Record labels help artists ship their music on to store shelves worldwide, but an independent artist surely doesn’t have the financial backing to power this sort of distribution. With the age of technology though, the relevance of brick and mortar CD shops is waning, and any artist can make their music available through web sites such as eMusic, iTunes, Rhapsody, and more.
Record labels do possess a lot of money, and that can help an artist fund tours – both local and worldwide. This is still the biggest concern for musicians, as I see it. It is commonly understood that artists make little profit on CD sales and that most of their profits come from touring. Unless an artist has significant personal wealth, it would be next-to-impossible to fund the type of world tours that help them grow their popularity, sate their hungry fans, and pad their wallets.
I know local artists who spend a large deal of time playing at local venues, but they don’t have the promotional power of a record label to help them spread their word around, and they often make only just enough money at their shows to break even on their overhead costs. With the backing of a label, they would have more funding at their disposal to help them break out of the local circuits and finally tour more of the country, perhaps eventually the world.
Record labels are becoming increasingly less relevant in terms of distributing music to listeners around the world, but they do (unfortunately) still have a place in the music industry. Despite their early efforts to squelch online music distribution, the distribution model has prevailed and is now widely accessible to everyone. Still, without that extra financial backing that is required for promoting and touring, it can be difficult for a band to get the recognition they need to stand out in the crowded musical market these days. I am not sure if we will ever have a world in which the record label becomes completely obsolete, but with more recording and distributing options becoming directly available to artists, perhaps we will one day live in a world where artists are more in control of their contracts.
When most people in the general public speak with contempt about record labels, it’s often the huge ones that have signed the top 40, multi-million dollar bands. The negativity that exists there is used for justification for stealing all their music, and this spills into the metal arena, which is not always fair as many metal labels are independent and staffed by people who actually LOVE heavy metal.
Regarding the relevance of a record label, well it’s clear that there are bands who get on fine without them, that is often because that band has someone in their camp who has great business sense. To me, an artist should not have too much of that, as the focus should be the art…not on the million business things that could kill an artists creativity. Therefore, the tasks of promotion/advertising, getting press releases out, setting up the band for a tour, and if the band is lucky, getting the label to pay for studio time, is still something that most musicians would love to have done for them…as long as they don’t have to become poor and have to work other jobs just to make money for the label to pay back all these expenses. While there are many horror stories about how bands go though the ringer and come out broke and disgruntled, there are stories about how a lucky break and getting signed to a good metal label has given the band the break they needed. For these reasons, metal record labels are still here and deserve to be. Record labels are more than providers of CD’s, they must be the ones who seek out talent, take the time to help out a new band, get them on tours, etc etc….maybe this is not as perfect as it is in reality, but to me, this is what I think a label is for beyond just releasing a CD or sticking some MP3’s on iTunes.
The bigger issue with record labels is how they haven’t managed to stop pirating. Many people don’t even buy physical CD’s anymore and view music as free…which is still retarded to me. It wasn’t free to write, rehearse, record…so why should you get it for free? If music is free, and bands only make money from touring and selling t-shirts, what happens when retirement happens? If the band/musician isn’t a household name, but has made decent living from touring, what happens when they can’t tour? Welfare? Hope they made enough to invest for retirement? hmmm….
The below "Murder of Music" rant isn’t from me, but I wanted to include it here since it made an impact on me and made me think about these kinds of things…..
MILAN POLAK ON THE MURDER OF MUSIC:
Some time ago I talked to a fan and she said, "I really love your music, I downloaded all your CD’s". I was stunned by the way she said it like as if it was the most natural thing in the world. I told her, "Thank you for stealing my money" and she replied, "I’m not STEALING any money from you, I’m just not GIVING you any!" – and there we have the problem:
People obviously have a wrong comprehension. They don’t seem to take into consideration that making a CD costs money. Apart from the fact that I – as most of us – have to pay my rent, electricity, etc., recording a CD also costs money. As much as I love my work but someone has to pay for the studio (which can be up to 1.000 dollars/DAY!), the musicians, the producer, the engineer, the mixing, the mastering, the photographer, the artwork, etc. All these people obviously do not work for free.
I mean you wouldn’t go to the supermarket and just take whatever you want without paying or get a hair cut or go to a restaurant for dinner without paying. In all these cases it’s understood that one has to pay but when it comes to music people have this distorted way of thinking that music is a free product for everyone.
It is kind of saddening when I read a CD review where someone says, "Yeah, Milan’s songs are great but the production is a bit weak." I mean, I too would like to have the sound of the new Nickelback album but productions like these cost up to 2 million dollars. Unfortunately, my record company doesn’t give me a budget for a production like this and you know why? Because they don’t sell enough of my CD’s. Now one could say, "Well right but obviously Milan is not as famous as those bands"… True BUT when I compare the amount of fan mail I get with my sales it doesn’t take the genius of Einstein to see that something’s not matching…
At this point I am writing my new CD and I am planning to do everything myself. Not because I am an egomaniac but because I just don’t want to spend all the money I spent in the past when the sales don’t even recoup my expenses.
I hear so many people complain about the bad quality of music you get to hear on radio or TV today but let me tell you something: it might just as well be YOUR fault! Let me try to explain: a band like AC/DC or Van Halen or Kiss or Iron Maiden (and the list goes on forever) took several albums to develop and grow. Maybe they changed their sound or song writing a bit, maybe they took several years to finish a record (just think of Metallica’s famous black album). All this is not possible for a new band anymore and that’s why there’s hardly any new great bands emerging nowadays. Record companies just do not have the budgets anymore. While established bands already have made enough money in the past to survive, an upcoming band is almost certainly doomed to perish.
If you like any of those great old bands then make sure to catch them when they come to play near you, might as well be the last time you get a chance to see a great live band as music in this form is definitely a dying art thanks to the illegal file sharing problem.
Thank you for having taken the time to read this. Hopefully it has helped to give you a better insight on what’s going on behind the scenes of making a CD and why SELLING CD’s is so important.
All the best,
Back to EvilG….
I know many people who view music as free and listen to music daily but haven’t paid a cent for music in YEARS (if at all). They don’t feel ANY guilt with stealing music. I’m sure if people could "download" a haircut or a meal for free they’d do that as well. ha! The bigger question is, will this mean that there won’t be any more "Iron Maiden’s" or whatever level of metal band who is given the time, resources, and breaks to develop into such a powerhouse? I’m hoping there will be of course, but so far there hasn’t been anyone NEW doing THAT well in a while. It’s probably not just lack of record sales, it also that there so much choice too. As pointed out there are 1000’s of band from loads of sub-genres of metal, it’s dizzying and splits everyone’s buying power because not many people can afford (in terms of money or time) investment into 1000’s of bands.
"While established bands already have made enough money in the past to survive, an upcoming band is almost certainly doomed to perish."
That’s one of the poorest reasons I’ve ever heard for stopping piracy. In metal at least, bands are sprouting millionfold everyday, myspace and cheap home studio software has brought DIY to dizzying heights undreamed of in the cassette era. I don’t know who this Milan Polak dude is, but if he’s expecting a "studio (which can be up to 1.000 dollars/DAY!), the musicians, the producer, the engineer, the mixing, the mastering, the photographer, the artwork, etc", tons of bands cope with the lack of most or all of these ingredients on a day to day basis, don’t hear them moaning about it. In fact, it’s the bigger bands who are suffering loss of revenue because of piracy, not yer average struggling four piece garage band. Bands like Maiden get their money from tours and innovative merching opportunities. There’s other moral grounds for not engaging in music piracy, but stunting the growth of the scene is not one of them.
And a large percentage of CD sales go to the record label (i.e. bigger/more established bands), whereas the profits of a self-produced DIY record go directly to the band. Why not blame the label for taking more than its fair chunk of the pie? This guy sounds butthurt.
"I mean you wouldn’t go to the supermarket and just take whatever you want without paying or get a hair cut or go to a restaurant for dinner without paying. In all these cases it’s understood that one has to pay but when it comes to music people have this distorted way of thinking that music is a free product for everyone." – Most sensible thing he’s said so far.
The day of record labels as we’ve traditionally come to know them is fading into the sunset. Right or wrong, thanks to torrent services and peer to peer networks, there is zero money to be made with CD sales today. A while back I ranted about the issue of “piracy,” and placed a bulk of the blame on the artists and labels themselves. I know what it costs to mass manufacture CDs and the markup on the sticker price when the CD hits store shelves is criminal. I don’t condone illegal downloading, but I can certainly understand the mindset to justify it – a $20 price point to purchase music on a dying medium (the CD itself) vs. a free MP3 download that I can carry anywhere on my iPod or other portable music device? If you take the question of ethics out of it, it’s a no-brainer.
True Story of the Week – I was at the mall recently to pick up some new music at the resident chain store, as they generally have a good (albeit pricey) selection of metal CDs. Imagine my surprise as I walk towards the storefront and see the “going out of business” banner and various other signs touting discounts on merchandise. Being the opportunist that I am, I figured I’d take advantage of the situation and pick up some additional items that weren’t on my shopping list. But as I flipped through the CD rack, my grin turned to a scowl, as all of the CDs were still priced as high as they always were.
I had a revelation at that moment – that this was a living, breathing example of everything that is currently wrong with the music industry. I have no doubt that downloading of both music and movies has crippled profit margins of both the record labels and the retail industry. But even as people are losing their livelihoods and previously acceptable business models are crumbling for all to see, the decision makers at the labels and the retail chains continue to cling to these arcane and outdated practices, as if they’re completely oblivious to their role in their own demise. It’s as if the collective mindset is – if we can’t sell it at the price we determine, we’re not going to sell it at all, even if it means we die in the process! It’s completely counterintuitive to basic economics. It’s a brave new world out there, and these entities need to remain competitive with essentially their own products, but a price point that’s much more appealing to the consumer (FREE!). Why not swallow your pride and mark down the sticker price to accommodate your store’s demographic (cash strapped teens and young adults) to at least recoup some losses, rather than return a glut of stock back to the warehouse?
A lot of labels do a lot of good work to promote and support their artist rosters. They support a lot of the details and financial aspects of the business that many artists don’t want to get involved with or rather don’t know how to manage. In return for fronting much of the upfront capital, the label expects to make their money back – traditionally through album sales. But labels that are stuck in this mold and are expecting to continue receiving this return on their investment will have a short life expectancy if they don’t diversify quickly.
Certain labels like the fine folks at Nuclear Blast have seen this coming for a while and have made it a point to make promoting a new release more about just the CD itself. It’s not unusual to see a new release packaged in various special editions, complete with a DVD, t-shirt, collector’s items, etc. to incentify a purchase. Suffocation’s latest album, BLOOD OATH, had several different such packages available when it came out last year and the album managed to crack the Billboard Top 200 with 3,000 units sold. That’s a tremendous feat for a band of Suffocation’s pedigree, and while I don’t have any specific data to define a correlation between package deals and album sales, I have to speculate that at the very least it didn’t hurt sales of the album and built some fan loyalty to NB. Immortal had a similar deal with their latest, ALL SHALL FALL, where in addition to the CD you could get a "deluxed package" with a t-shirt, pendant, and other goodies.
Other labels are beginning to test the waters with 360 deals. Knowing that album sales will be negligible, the label fronts the recording costs and essentially makes the album available for free. In exchange, the label has a greater financial stake in areas such as merch and ticket sales. The jury’s still out on whether this kind of relationship is viable in the long-term, but it certainly provides some immediate incentives for all parties involved.
And some labels will simply purge their artist roster of bands that aren’t profitable, and yes, I’m talking to you Roadrunner.
Roadrunner before the internet Roadrunner after the internet
But the bottom line is that in 2010, you don’t need a label to get your music out anymore. Label support is great at shouldering some of the capital expense of recording and touring, but is it absolutely essential? Absolutely not. Any band with a computer, Pro-Tools, graphic arts software, a website, and some semblance of social media networking can record, release, and promote their music to a worldwide audience. Sure, they front those costs on their own shoulders, but unfortunately that’s one of the opportunity costs now of being a professional musician. Like many of my colleagues at the site, I’ve received plenty of self-released albums from bands all over the world that both look and sound just as good as one released on a professional label. And these bands own that final product, without having to give up publishing rights or other nonsense to get their music in front of an audience.
Personally, I find it exhilarating. While the prospect of some of my favorite labels closing up shop really sucks, the prospect of the metal scene going back to a more organic, word-of-mouth level is exciting. It’s like tape trading was in the 80’s and 90’s, but it’s quicker, it sounds better, and the impact can be immediate. Couple that with some more homegrown fan sites (such as the mighty Metal-Rules.com) doing their part to promote the bands, and you’ve got a scene that’s 100% artist and fan driven. We may not see any more bands rise to an Iron Maiden status, but that was a trend that started well before the advent of the internet and the decline of the labels.
This is one of the fundamental questions of our changing music industry in the 21st Century. Are record labels obsolete? I don’t think that labels are obsolete but I do think that unless labels change they will quickly become nothing more than a historical footnote. In our post 20th century world music has become something that most people get free from the internet. Why in the hell would they pay for a CD when they can just download it? The question of paying for music never comes into peoples minds. Music is there for the taking. So why not take it? That is the reality and the environment that record labels face today.
I know that some labels provide tour support while others merely act as a conduit for bands to hopefully reach a wider audience with their recorded material. Whatever the level of involvement that labels take in their acts, they must now look at why they are faltering. As a music purchaser with a large collection I am still faced with the high cost of CDs. I want to support the artists I like but at $25 a pop it’s hard to buy every disc that I want. I know the labels, the band, the distributor and the store have to make money but since I do not have bottomless pockets I cannot buy everything I want. Buying online is better but the cost is still high. Buying directly from the artists makes much more sense, especially when that band isn’t signed to a label. At least then, I know that the band is receiving all of the money that I pay out.
I think that record labels, as we know them, are a dying breed and have been for a long time. Even in the past number of years, the industry has seen a shift in the way that labels get the music to the fans. Those that have seen this coming have taken the opportunity to give more value back to their customers. Bonus DVDs and creative packaging give more incentive to purchase music. The ease of purchasing digital formats online has also generated interest. Unfortunately, those that have no interest in purchasing music will continue to download regardless of what creative solutions labels develop.
The final blow to record labels comes from a source with which they cannot hope to compete. Technology will ultimately be the downfall of labels. Artists do not need a label anymore to front them the money for expensive studio time, producers, CD production and distribution and even advertising. Great quality recordings can be made at home with the proper recording software and with a little hard work and ingenuity; a band can get its product out to a wide audience and reap the financial benefits without being beholden to a record label.
Even with some record labels making innovations in their operations they are becoming increasing obsolete in the new millennium. Piracy has helped to erode their financial base and new technologies have greatly decreased the reliance that artists have on them. Without some kind of radical change to what they offer to the music community, the record label as we know it will disappear.
Record labels like any other organization serve a purpose. There is no real firm answer about their validity or usefulness unless a creative artist are capable and/or and willing to work with an organization that is generally driven by commercial concerns, ie. Profit.
So where do traditional record labels stand in today’s evolving music market? Record labels can be a very useful resource for an emerging band. They can provide expertise, some prestige, access to distribution channels and the all important cash flow to make the writing, recording, production and distribution of music easier. Many people who are anti-record label tend to forget that most labels are essentially banks. They lend the money to the artists to create and by signing a contract the label entitled to a share of that success. As a basic model there is nothing wrong with that. There has never been an artist in the history of recorded music who has been ‘forced’ against their will to be on a record label. It is an agreement that is freely entered into by both parties.
Many bands who have been ‘screwed-over’ by labels blame the company when in reality they did not have good representation, did not have any business sense, did not even read what they were signing, and don’t even know the difference between ‘net’ and ‘gross’. The labels make a financial investment (often a gamble) on young bands and yet the label can never win. If the record is a smashing success it is not the hard work of the label, it’s the ‘creative genius’ of the band. When the record flops, it is not a case of the band sucks can’t write a good song, the label gets blamed for not supporting the band.
There has been a long-standing, negative, anti-business mentality in the arts industry which has trickled down to influence the fans of the arts. Namely, Labels are bad. They are the necessary evil. That over-reaching mentality has effected the judgment of people to the point now where in society we have an entire generation of people who think is acceptable to steal, yes, steal, music they are not entitled to.
Unfortunately many fans have an undeserved sense of entitlement, they are not willing to pay but still want the music for free. They are too lazy to walk down to the record store and listen to the album at the listening station, they want to be able to push a button and get the whole album for free instantly at home. When the final link in the economic chain fails to live up their role (the consumer refusing to pay) the system can collapse. If the consumer is unwilling to pay, the people who invested initially (both artist and record label) suffer and the industry collapses. If everyone stopped buying cars and stole cars without consequence the auto-industry would also collapse. If the consequences for stealing (illegally downloading) an album were as severe as those for stealing a car, downloading would be dramatically reduced.
However, because of the anti-big business mentality of the arts community, the vast majority of society currently see illegal downloading as a victimless crime. Accordingly there is not a demand from society to pressure legislative officials (law-makers) to institute laws, policies, tracking procedures and regulations restricting the practice of music piracy. If the #1 issue on the next major election in your nation was audio-visual Piracy instead of for example, health care, education etc. there would be a dramatic change in law. This is unlikely to happen because generally only a small percentage of people in society derive a direct living from the arts and so they there is not really a massive, pan-societal demand to curtail the ‘victimless crime’.
Labels complain that sales are dropping and that they can no longer sustain the older business model of giving a young band a huge advance and a multi-album contract, in hopes of recouping their investment. Whose ‘fault’ is that? Consumers have become more aware of the business models of the traditional record label. Many consumers feel they are unwilling to pay $20.00 for example for a CD that costs $1.00 to manufacture. This is a bit of a naïve and short-sighted view on the consumer part. Consumers don’t account of the cost of the massive infrastructure of a label, overhead, salaries, etc. The loss of sales mean labels have to scale back operations because revenue has dried up. Having been in the business over 10 years I know of 11 people in my city alone who have lost their jobs due to declining sales, primarily from theft (illegal downloading) of product. The collapse of entire retail changes is a direct result of theft, people no longer buying physical product, because they can steal it for free, without consequence. If the technology did not exist to enable people to steal music for free without consequence, this would not be an issue. However, it would be naive for the industry to ignore the reality of evolving technology.
It’s a doubled-edged sword. Consumer won’t pay what they perceive is an unfair price of a product. That is perfectly acceptable. Market forces will dictate supply and demand. Access to supply is dropping because demand has dropped. Even though we have more active Metal bands than ever before, they are all selling a fraction of what a much smaller number of bands were selling in the past. Does it matter? Not really. You have 1000 bands selling 1000 albums each compared to 100 bands selling 10,000 each.
It’s getting harder to find music because you can no longer walk to your brick and mortar retailer and find a physical copy sitting on the shelf. Now you have to find a specific supplier, a niche label, an on-line distributor, often in another country. You have to set up a Paypal account or have a credit card, paying shipping, taxes, import fees, international exchange rates and then HOPE the the supplier honours the ‘virtual on-line’ agreement and sends you the product, often weeks later, at the mercy of the national postal service, and maybe… if it arrives undamaged….you get your CD a few weeks after you order it..and then when it arrives you discover it’s the digi-pak instead of the jewel case you ordered because some fool in a warehouse in another country screwed up your order. No thank you. As a consumer I want to be able to go to my local record store on the release day and find a pristine, wrapped copy of my CD sitting there. And when I’m there at the store I crack open a CD or two and check out some new bands at the listening station. I’m willing to pay for that service, however, many people aren’t. People who steal music want it on their iPod now. For free. It’s pure greed and laziness on the part of the unethical consumer.
Where do the bands fit into the evolving model? Many bands ask themselves, why should they pay someone else (the record label) to do the work? That is a fair question. Does a band do all the hard work, invest and risk everything or do they mitigate that risk and enter into a deal where they compensate someone for taking the initial risk? Record labels still serve a purpose. Some artists don’t have access to quality recording gear, a studio, low-rate for CD manufacturing, established distribution channels or cash flow for tour support. Some do, some don’t. The harsh reality is that of the thousands and thousands of Metal bands in existence, most will never make it because it is expensive and really hard work to be in a band, write, record, produce music and tour.
As technology advances there are some cost reductions and increases in other areas, like maintaining and hosting a viable web-site. Bands in the 80’s never had to worry about those internet-related time and expenses for example. Bands today can buy a relatively in expensive computer program to get certain sounds that might take a ton of money to duplicate in a recording studio 20 years ago. Bands today don’t have to buy reels and reels of tape! There are economic trade-offs with the advent of new technology. 30 years ago a band ‘needed’ a demo tape. Now the bands ‘need’ a web-site. There are still expensive barriers that prohibit entry into the market.
As you may have surmised, I’m quite pro-label. In my professional life I am in the law-enforcement industry and I deal with thieves everyday. What some regard as nuisance crimes of minor theft (eg. Illegal downloading) these crimes cost industries millions (perhaps billions by some estimates) a year. As a fan and industry observer, I’ve watched labels collapse (Dockyard is the most recent victim and SPV almost went down the tubes last year) I’ve seen the face of radio and the recording industry change and not necessarily for the better. The prices have been driven up industry wide; concert tickets, merchandise, CD’s and DVD’s all those costs are being put back on the consumer because of the dramatically reduced economic power of the market, in turn, because a large part of the market stopped paying for products and services and starting stealing when the technology became available.
In the 1990’s when dozens of indie metal-specific labels emerged the industry was strengthened. There are some fantastic, smaller specialty, niche labels like Underground Symphony, Frontiers, Stormspell, Sentinel Steel, Limb, Moribund, FNA, Nightmare, Deathgasm etc run by enthusiastic, well-meaning fans who support the industry. They are several other labels who run along a more-traditional business models like Roadrunner, Century Media, Nuclear Blast, and Metal Blade who are very successful in terms of growth, exposure and profitability, but tend to be influenced by commercial trends in exchange for greater growth and sales.
Record labels work and are still a viable model. They offer products and services like any other commercial venture and as a consumer (the bands) need to decide individually, on a case by case basis if they are going to pay for that service. I for one will continue to buy CD’s and support bands and labels buying direct from bands and labels and I will stand strong to my principles and not steal the music I want to hear. I love the music too much to steal it and hurt the artists and music I’m trying to support.
It’s all about size in my opinion.
A large record label at some point cannot pick an artist or band to promote for purely aesthetic reasons or simply because they like it. At the size they operate on and the figures they’re expected to bring in boils everything down to a simple business case and some market surveys. Produce what sells.
Small labels cater to a smaller but more loyal market so can take more risks. Not saying that operating a label is riding a bike through the park by any means but it would be safe to say, once put in perspective, that they have less to lose than a bigger label that just has to sell 100,000 units in the first month alone, or some such.
So what I’m saying is that a smaller label can have more integrity when it comes to the artists they sign up since it’s not only about the money….hope that makes sense.
Not only that. In way smaller labels allow music and the industry to continue evolving. By signing up artists that the big labels won’t take a gamble on smaller labels help bands make the transition from the garage to the stage. It’s a cottage industry but hey….most mass produced products started off as someone’s family recipe. A big label through intent or circumstance won’t sell something that the masses might not accept because it’s too different or too new.
To be fair, not all they push on the masses is junk and if there’s one thing big labels can offer artists it’s the fulfillment of The Dream…money, fame, fortune.
This is how I view the contributions of labels to music. In a way they basically are the music industry. I guess then the question is whether music needs an industry anymore now that we have the internet? Technically it is possible for an artist, with the right tools, to record, produce and distribute their own music(ref. Fireaxe) through any number of online resources – myspace, iTunes, Blogs, web forums, youtube, facebook etc etc etc…Technically the medium allows you to reach out to the same number of people so I guess in that sense it’s possible that one doesn’t ‘NEED’ a label to help them sell what they’re offering. Question is if the artists themselves are willing to do all the work? It sounds like a hell of a lot of hard work with every chance of getting your heart broke.
Anvil did it for their “This is Thirteen” cd as we all know. When Testament got kicked off Atlantic they put out Live at Filmore on their own label and used the sales to record and put out out “Demonic”.
With a combination of touring and good management I guess a band could make a living that way. Both examples I cited though are of pretty established bands though. Don’t know if the same would work for a new unknown band. Is the best case scenario that they can ‘make a living’? I don’t know. It’s reasonable to want more.
Point is it’s hard work and not for everyone. Most kids pick up an instrument the first time because all they want to do is rock and roll and have someone else take care of the other shit.
There’s also the mindset that you haven’t ‘made it’ unless you’ve been ‘signed’. That kind of long ingrained mentality is also difficult to argue with and will only change with time.
A good label that cares about the bands it signs can do a lot for the music scene. Not only for new and upcoming bands but old and long extinct ones as well. Labels like Shadow Kingdom and Arkeyn Steel have done wonders by putting out long out of print and unheralded metal classics like Longings Past, Enchanter, Asylum, Stygian Shore. Those bands never had a shot or a chance back in their day but these labels gave them a chance for the sheer love of the music and so now some of them have a second lease on life and their music is accessible to both long time fans and new ones. Fair to say that none of that would have happened if those labels did not have people who gave a damn.
So in conclusion do labels still have value? Yes I think clearly demonstrated that some of them do.
Are the still relevant in 2010? Yes but in another 10 years? Don’t know. The way technology is going and consumer mind set is changing I’d say that the larger labels will eventually die out and the smaller ones will stick around putting out physical copies as novelty items for collectors. Much the way like Vinyl is handled these days.